Looking Back: Week 4: Patriots Pass First Big Test But Lose Wilfork

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February 26, 2014 at 08:00am ET

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Matthew Mulligan enjoys what will be his best moment of the season. (USA TODAY Images)

With the entire season obviously behind us at this point, this is the second entry in a new series taking an in-depth look back at each regular season game now that we have plenty of context behind it to understand the significance of what transpired in each one. Also included will be notable stats, quotes, and additional information to hopefully focus on things you may have forgotten and make it an interesting look back at the season. The idea behind this is with free agency approaching and the draft not far off, this will paint a bigger picture of each game and highlight some of the weaknesses and things that went wrong, which will likely play a factor in how the team approaches fixing some of the issues they dealt with this season.

In this morning’s installment, the focus is on their week four win over the Falcons, which was a 30-23 Sunday night road victory.

Week 4: Sunday, September 29nd, 2013 at Atlanta

Coming off their big win over he Buccaneers, New England's defense was riding high and seemed to be poised for a big year as they headed to Atlanta in what many felt was their first true test of the season. Facing the likes of Matt Ryan and tight end Tony Gonzalez, most thought that how they fared against better competition might be a good indication of what kind of team they really were. This ended up being a hard fought game that came right down to the wire, but while New England won the battle, it came at a steep cost as they lost the first key member of their defense.

Looking back, here's a breakdown of what happened that night down in Georgia:

Total Number of Offensive Plays: 72 (Excluding punts & field goals)
Number of First Down Plays: 28 - First Downs Converted: 7
Number of Second Down Plays: 20 - First Downs Converted: 5
Number of Third Down Plays: 13 - First Downs Converted: 7
Number of Fourth Down Plays: 1, Punts - 2, FG Attempts: 3 - First Downs Converted 0
Punts - 2
FG Attempts: 3, Made: 3

Tom Brady:
Total: 20-of-31 (65%) for 316yds, 2 TDs QB Rating: 119.8
First Down: 10-of-13 (77%) for 178yds 1 TD
Second Down: 4-of-8 (50%) for 51yds
Third Down: 6-of-10 (78%) for 87yds 1 TD

Red Zone Passing:

3-of-6 (50%) for 22yds, 2 TDs

LeGarrette Blount: 9 carries, 64yds, 1 TD (2 First Downs)
Stevan Ridley: 11 carries, 53yds (1 First Down)
Brandon Bolden: 6 carries, 17 yards (2 First Downs)

Julian Edelman: Targets: 9, Receptions: 7, 118yds (5 First Downs)
Kenbrell Thompkins: Targets: 11, Receptions: 6, 127yds, 1 TD (4 First Downs)
Stevan Ridley: Targets: 2, Receptions: 2, 26yds (1 First Down)
James Develin: Targets: 1, Receptions: 1, 15yds (1 First Down)
Aaron Dobson: Targets: 3, Receptions: 1, 10yds (1 First Down)
Matthew Mulligan: Targets: 1, Receptions: 1, 1yd, 1TD (1 First Down)
Josh Boyce: Targets: 3, Receptions: 1, 24yds (1 First Down)

TE Rob Gronkowski, WR Danny Amendola, WR Matthew Slater, RB Leon Washington


Vince Wilfork has been the heart and soul in the middle of New England's defense over the years, and watching him get carted off the field that night was difficult to watch. At first the reports said it was a "foot" injury, but Shalise Manza Young of the Boston Globe later reported that Wilfork suffered a torn Achilles, which ended his season. His loss started a shuffle up front that began seeing more playing time for Chris Jones and Tommy Kelly, as well as Joe Vellano, and weeks later would even see a trade that brought in Isaac Sopoaga.

It was a tough loss, and while at first it seemed like they'd be O.K., the bad news was that they would lose Tommy Kelly just one week later.

Aqib Talib enjoyed another strong performance down in Atlanta.
(USA TODAY Images)


Also banged up that night were receiver Aaron Dobson and running back Brandon Bolden. Dobson took a shot in the end zone late in the contest that left him writhing around on the ground after the hit, and he left the game with an apparent neck injury and didn’t return, and was seen heading back to the locker room after the play. Meanwhile Bolden also went down with an apparent knee injury, however, he managed to return and had a late game carry.


After losing Danny Amendola and still being without Rob Gronkowski, New England began to prove they had one of the deepest rosters we’ve seen during the Bill Belichick era at the receiver position considering the amount of youth and speed they had. Josh Boyce got more involved in the action and made his first catch of the year, which was a big 24 yard reception to put them in Falcons territory. That led to a field goal that put New England up 30-13 with 6:23 to go in the game. Considering the improvement from both Dobson and Thompkins, For a group who seemed to be in trouble after losing Amendola a couple of weeks ago, they were seemingly turning out to be a strong bunch.

Meanwhile the running back position began to prove to be incredibly deep, with LeGarrette Blount rounding out a group that behind Stevan Ridley had been remarkably productive. Despite losing Shane Vereen they didn’t skip a beat, with Blount and Bolden both picking up the slack carrying the ball as a change of pace. Fortunately Blount would begin to emerge even further as the season wore on, which came just in time to weather the fumble problems Stevan Ridley would begin to have.


Bill Belichick talks all the time about being able to make plays in important situations, and New England came up big in Atlanta, especially on third down. Overall they finished 7-of-13, but more importantly they converted quite a few in long yardage situations. They converted 2-of-3 on 3rd-and-8, and 1-of-2 on 3rd and more than 10 yards. Being able to overcome those on the road is incredible, and it’s hard not to appreciate a lot of the plays they made that night, which helped them get the win.


Matthew Mulligan made his first big splash of the season in Atlanta, catching a touchdown pass on 3rd down early in the second quarter to put the Patriots ahead for the first time 7-3 and capped a 12-play, 75-yard drive. It was an exciting moment for the former University of Maine standout. He played fairly well for the most part, but that would be his best moment of the season.


Coming into Sunday’s game against the Falcons the Patriots offense hadn’t broken the 40 yard reception mark in the passing game all season, but they managed to do it twice in Atlanta. Kenbrell Thompkins had a 49-yard pass in the second quarter, while Julian Edelman had a key 44-yard grab on 3rd down in the fourth quarter. Their longest pass play prior to that game had been Aaron Dobson’s 39-yard touchdown reception back in week two against the Jets.


Once again Aqib Talib was relied upon to take key players out of the game, and he held his own against Julio Jones. He also finished the night with all four of the passes defensed by New England's defense including an interception, and was one of the key reasons why the Patriots won this game.


1) The Patriots extended their turnover streak to 31 straight games during the win having forced a turnover defensively thanks to a fourth quarter interception by Aqib Talib. It gave Talib his 4th pick of the season, and at the time tied him for the league lead with Tennessee’s Alterraun Verner, and Buffalo linebacker Kiko Alonso.

2) Brady’s touchdown streak was extended to 52 straight games thanks to his one yard touchdown pass to Matthew Mulligan. That was Mulligan’s second career touchdown, and he became the second player for the Patriots in 2013 whose first catch of the year was a touchdown (Dobson was the other back in week two against the Jets).

3) Tom Brady had just 9 first half attempts that night, which were the lowest he had all season. Here’s a breakdown by week prior to that night: Week 1: 25 attempts, Week 2: 24 attempts, Week 3: 19 attempts.

4) Julian Edelman had his longest catch of the year at the time in Atlanta with a 44-yard reception, which came on third down. He also was a perfect 3-of-3 catching the ball on 3rd down with two first downs, extending his perfect target/reception streak to 11-of-11 on the year with 7 first downs.

5) That night’s victory improved the Patriots to 4-0 against Atlanta under Belichick, and 3-0 in the Georgia Dome during that span.

6) Kenbrell Thompkins finished the night with seven catches for 127 yards and a touchdown, giving him his first career NFL game with over 100 yards receiving.